On June 19, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas and issued General Order Number 3 from the balcony of Ashton Villa which stated:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
This was two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), but with the lack of Union Soldiers to enforce President Lincoln's law in Texas (until the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the end of the Civil War), this was the East Texas version of the Emancipation Proclamation. Eventually the message was spread out to roughly 250,000 slaves in Texas and celebrations were immediate, including many slaves who left their plantations to find family in neighboring states and others who headed north to freedom.
Imagine the elation of hearing that the days of oppression are over and that families can be reunited and those who were not even considered a whole person could now be educated and start getting the rights that were so overdue.
The term Juneteenth is combination of the word June and the suffix teenth and has been the term for this celebration since 1903.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States are a mix of family reunions, cookouts, poetry readings, concerts and a pride of ancestry. They often includes speeches as well as church services. And its not just an African American celebration, since the first Juneteenth celebrations in Galveston Texas, they have been people of all races to join in the joyus celebration of the ending of slavery. Some of the traditional songs performed at Juneteenth celebrations include "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" & Lift Every Voice & Sing", also included are often black cowboys as well as historical reenactments.
This celebration of freedom is a state holiday in 42 states (including Illinois), and the District of Columbia. Texas first officially made this a holiday in 1980 with the assistance of Texas state representative Al Edwards. This was part of the resurgence of Juneteenth celebrations that started during the 1960's Civil Rights era.
My great grandparents were residents of Galveston, Texas until the early 1900's when they were part of the "Great Migration" to come up to Chicago. And speaking of my hometown, it seems the main Juneteenth celebration here in Chicago, took place on the west side this past weekend.
But there are Juneteenth events from the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to Henry Ford Museum in Detroit and its a growing celebration not of the dark days of of our past but of the future and freedom that lies ahead.